Alien: 11 Things You Might Not Know About Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi Classic
Alien came out in 1979 with the rock band The Who actually helping with the lighting special effects.
When it comes to long-running science fiction space franchises, it would be easy to come up with names like Star Wars and Star Trek first. But Alien has created its own world, one that now has six movies over an 18-year timeline with more flicks planned in this universe.
Before we get some of those new additions, we’ve decided to climb into the Wayback Machine and revisit one particularly awesome slice of the past: Ridley Scott’s Alien, which went into wide release on June 22, 1979. To celebrate, we’ve compiled a few interesting Alien facts you might not have known.
THE ALIEN XENOMORPHS OWE THEIR ACID BLOOD TO CONCEPTUAL ARTIST RON COBB
Having worked with Dan O’Bannon and John Carpenter on the low-budget sci-fi comedy Dark Star, Ron Cobb reunited with O’Bannon on Alien, helping design the Nostromo’s interiors and exteriors, the crew’s spacesuits, and other human-related elements of the movie (along with Chris Foss and Jean “Moebius” Giraud).
Cobb also came up with the idea that the xenomorph would have acid for blood, as a practical solution to the question of why the humans couldn’t just shoot the alien and be done with it.
MIMING WAS A KEY TO THE ALIENS’ MOVEMENTS
At 7’2, graphic artist Bolaji Badejo already had the perfect build to bring the terrifying alien to life, but he also took Tai Chi and mime classes to help master the creature’s style of movement.
THE WHO PROVIDED LASERS FOR THE ALIEN EFFECTS
The blue laser lights that hovered above the smoke in the creepy egg chamber were borrowed from rock band The Who. The band was testing the lasers for one of their shows in the soundstage next door to where Alien was filming.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE
Ridley Scott has said that three of his primary influences for Alien were 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars … and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sorry, but Leatherface has never scared me nearly as much as the xenomorph did the first time I watched Alien.
But from an influence standpoint, this makes a ton of sense. At its core, Alien is a horror movie that just happens to take place in space. Taking elements of where that style has worked so well and translating it to a new setting completely played.
MERYL STREEP NEARLY PLAYED RIPLEY IN ALIEN
The role of Ripley eventually came down to two actresses: Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. Now I’m trying to picture Streep in the Aliens power loader, hissing “Get away from her, you bitch!” Love me some Streep, but I’m glad it went to Weaver.
And for what it’s worth, the choice made a ton of sense seeing as how Sigourney Weaver reprised the role in the franchise’s next three movies.
THE MOST ICONIC SCENE WAS SHOT IN ONE TAKE
The infamous “chestburster” scene was filmed in one take, using four different cameras. And contrary to rumors that just won’t die, the crew did know generally what was going to happen — they’d even seen the chestburster puppet.
They weren’t expecting the sheer amount of blood, however, and one particular jet caught actress Veronica Cartwright right in the face, resulting in a brilliantly organic-seeming reaction.
From a one-take perspective, this has to be one of the best ever. The scene has transcended the film, been used in tons of references later on, and become one of the franchise’s bloody calling cards.
RIDLEY SCOTT WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE FOR DIRECTOR
Other potential directors for Alien before Ridley Scott was hired included Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen), Peter Yates (Bullitt), Jack Clayton (Something Wicked This Way Comes), Walter Hill (48 Hours), and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon.
Ultimately, Scott was clearly the right way to go. He would come back to the franchise for Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
THE MOVIE’S TAGLINE CAME ABOUT AFTER THE MOVIE WAS SHOT
Alien’s iconic tagline — “In space, no one can hear you scream” — was concocted by copywriter Barbara Gips while her husband, graphic artist Philip Gips, was working on the movie poster. They included it on the poster design and the studio loved it. I hope they gave her a raise.
ZETA RETICULI IS A REAL STAR SYSTEM
At one point, Lambert says that the Nostromo is “just short of Zeta Reticuli” — a real binary star system located some 39 light years away from Earth. It’s also a staple of UFO mythology, as purported 1960s abductees Barney and Betty Hill claimed the gray aliens who had taken them hailed from Zeta Reticuli.
THE SPACE JOCKEY PROP WAS ALMOST CUT FROM THE FILM
The Space Jockey/Engineer corpse almost got cut from the movie. At 26 feet tall, it was going to be a large and expensive prop, and 20th Century Fox didn’t think it merited the expenditure since it was only going to be used briefly.
Ron Cobb argued that the reveal of the mummified creature would be the film’s “Cecil B. DeMille shot.” When he later discovered they were building the Space Jockey, he thought it was a mistake and that its removal somehow hadn’t trickled down to the production. He stayed mum until it was finished.
HARRISON FORD TURNED DOWN A ROLE
Harrison Ford turned down the role of Captain Dallas who was eventually played in the film by Tom Skerritt. Of course, Ford would later go on to work with Ridley Scott in 1982’s Blade Runner.